Battle for backup spot a 'dogfight'

Battle for backup spot a 'dogfight'
September 15, 2013, 1:30 pm
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It’s a short window here for the coaching staff and management to make a decision. Every practice, scrimmage and exhibition game is important for them.
Sharks assistant general manager Wayne Thomas

SAN JOSE – There isn’t exactly an abundance of high profile storylines at Sharks training camp, with the majority of the team that finished the shortened 2013 season back for another go-round this year.

The competition for the backup goaltender spot is on that short list, though. Alex Stalock and Harri Sateri, teammates for AHL Worcester last season, are vying for the spot vacated by Thomas Greiss, whom the organization wasn’t interested in retaining as a free agent. Greiss signed a one-year deal with Phoenix to back up Mike Smith.

Stalock and Sateri will both go to Vancouver for the Sharks’ first preseason game on Monday night, and head coach Todd McLellan said on Sunday that the battle for the backup position between the 26-year-old Stalock and Sateri, 23, is a “dogfight.” Assistant general manager Wayne Thomas, a former NHL goalie who works with the organization’s netminders, echoed that sentiment earlier in the weekend.

“Obviously, both are unproven, but hopefully someone will emerge during camp and grab the job and the opportunity,” Thomas said. “Certainly, whoever isn’t here, it doesn’t mean there won’t be opportunity in the future, but it’s a short window here for the coaching staff and management to make a decision. Every practice, scrimmage and exhibition game is important for them.”

Still, it’s difficult not to think that Stalock has at least a slight edge on Sateri coming into camp. After all, Stalock is older, more experienced at the minor league level, and played in two NHL games last season in relief of Antti Niemi when Greiss was out with an injury. Stalock was also the team’s emergency third goalie in the playoffs, another indication he’s higher up on the depth chart.

Stalock had better numbers that Sateri in Worcester last season, too. In 38 games, Stalock posted a 17-16-4 mark with a 2.60 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. Sateri was 14-21-3 with a 2.89 GAA and .903 SP in 39 games.

If Stalock believes he’s got an advantage, though, he’s not letting on.

“I don’t know how they look at that up top, but [after] years of being here, I don’t think that matters at all,” said the St. Paul, Minnesota native. “You come in ready to compete, and obviously this organization wants to win every night. That starts with game one, and they need the best chance of winning from game one.”

Sateri, a Finland native like starter Antti Niemi, was asked if he believes Stalock is the favorite to land the job.

“I don’t know. I’m not going to think about that. I just give my best,” he said.

Both goaltenders said that they have a good relationship, after spending the majority of last season together. Stalock has been with the organization since he was drafted in 2005, while Sateri was chosen three years later.

“We’re really good friends,” Sateri said. “He’s a good guy, and we hang out together a lot, especially last season in Worcester. Of course it’s a competition on the ice, but we’re really good friends off the ice.”

Stalock said: “He’s a good kid and good young goalie, and he’s got a bright future so it’s fun being with him.”

Each is expected to get a long, hard look in preseason action. After Monday, the Sharks have back-to-back home games on Friday and Saturday against Anaheim and Phoenix, respectively. According to Thomas, a decision will likely be made after the Sharks’ fourth preseason game on Sept. 24 vs. Vancouver.

“For both of them, they’re both going to see things they haven’t seen before,” Thomas said. “They may have seen them on TV, but they’re going to experience them live at NHL speed. Hopefully they can react property to it, and in a hurry, and if they do make a mistake, recover from it for the next shot or next game.”

Stalock welcomes the challenge.

“With the move they made this summer and the confidence in their system, it shows they want to have a guy there from inside their system, and it’s going to be a battle,” he said.